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Fencing options for your home
Your home is a reflection of you. On the exterior, this means everything from rooftops to groundcover says a little something about you. So when you’re looking to outline your property—whether it is for privacy, security or simply aesthetic reasons —your choices can drastically affect your home’s first impression.
Speaking of first impressions, the front view of your home makes the biggest one. So when choosing a perimeter detail, it’s important to keep that first impression in mind. Ryan Taylor, president of Atlanta-based Ryan Taylor Architects LLC, says that along front property lines, “landscaping is typically best, as fences and other physical barriers can become the first thing people notice. They can erase the curb appeal you’ve invested in at other points on your property.”
In fact, local codes can prohibit you from installing a privacy barrier in the front of your home, or at least limit its placement (so that the fence or wall is a certain amount of feet away from the street). Note that these barriers are generally tall fences or walls meant to block views of the home, for privacy concerns.
Of course, many homeowners still hold onto the white-picket-fence American dream. And these shorter fences—typically 4-feet tall or shorter—can actually enhance your home’s curb appeal, while also keeping children and pets safe from traffic. “Try to complement the style of your house,” Taylor advises. “A picket fence can look great with bungalow- and Craftsman-style homes. A stone or brick wall that connects into a stone or brick foundation wall of a house can help tie the home to the site. Barriers work best when they look like they’re part of an overall design rather than just erected as a temporary or inexpensive solution.”
“Keep it simple,” advises Holly Brooks of Atlanta-based King Landscaping. “The fence should either be ‘invisible’ or complement the landscape and architecture; it should not be the star of the landscape.”
In general, experts agree that it’s better to keep the front perimeter open and inviting, and leave the privacy and security concerns for the side and backyards. “Openness in the front of the home is a good idea so it doesn’t look like a fortress and it keeps its curb appeal,” says Brian Landfried with Apex Fence Company, adding the caveat, “unless the front yard is the only yard on the property.”
Privacy is the most-common reason for creating a barrier along the perimeter of your backyard. “In most homes built in the last 20 years or so, living rooms and kitchens are in the rear of the home,” Landfried notes. “That being said, privacy in the rear of the home—where we watch our children and pets play and keep our flower gardens—is typically the popular choice.”
Pools and outdoor living spaces are also popular in Atlanta-area backyards. “Most folks want their front yard to be open and inviting and their backyard to be private and cozy,” says John Newman, president of Hampton-based Classic Landscapes Inc. “If you have a pool, you may want to feel good about sunbathing and swimming as well as entertaining without feeling like you or your family are ‘on display.’”
Barrier tips and trends
If you choose to go with a privacy wall or fence, you have many options. Pressure-treated pine and cedar are common, readily available fencing materials in Atlanta, and the most popular height for a privacy fence is 6 feet, though up to 8 feet is allowable by most codes, Landfried says. PVC fences are another option, offering low maintenance and privacy. Plus, Newman notes that manufacturers can now give PVC fencing a wood-grain texture and color, avoiding the “ubiquitous white plain plastic look,” he says.
Newman also points to dark-stained wooden fences, a trend that he’s seen rise in popularity in recent years, particularly in natural settings. “They blend into the wooded feel of so many landscapes that we see in the Atlanta area,” he explains.
If the goal of the fence is privacy, then solid barriers can be a good choice, Brooks says, but often times the view shouldn’t be totally blocked. “Solid fences create smaller backyards,” she explains. “Borrow the view of the neighbor’s woods to visually increase the size of your property when possible.”
For a barrier that also offers visibility, 5-foot or 6-foot picket or decorative-metal fencing are good options. “Decorative metal allows a much greater level of visibility over a wood picket fence,” Landfried notes. “Chain link is a third option, but is typically not allowed in many of Atlanta’s subdivisions.”
For a decorative-metal look with lower maintenance, Taylor points to aluminum fencing made to look like wrought iron. “It offers great curb appeal yet it’s open and easy to see through. It has a resin finish, so it’s extremely durable compared to other materials, and it’s easy to install.”
“Consider cedar lattice fencing,” recommends Julie Evans, partner and garden designer with The Fockele Garden Company in Gainesville, a member of the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET). “It allows visibility and air movement for narrow areas.”
Whichever material you choose, it’s important to match the look of your home. “Think of how the fence will fit into the existing site with other materials that are already present,” Newman advises. “If you are not looking for an eclectic design, then look to match and create a sense of connection between the home and landscape by repeating like materials and colors.”
With this in mind, it’s also important to not let budget be the main deciding factor. “The biggest mistake we have found over the years is when homeowners think a fence is a fence, and price is the only thing that matters,” Landfried explains. “All fences are not created equal. We have seen many cases where you get what you pay for.”
Privacy through planting
No matter which part of the property you’re concerned with, you can achieve privacy without barriers by installing strategically placed plantings. “If there is a large window and you want privacy from the street, consider a deciduous tree to screen but not totally block the view,” Evans recommends. In the backyard, Evans notes that a few strategically placed plants or decorative fencing panels can give the needed privacy instead of “a wall of wood or a row of evergreens.” She adds that topography should be considered, as well—it, too, can be used to increase privacy, in combination with the right plants.
“If you need fencing for a pet, consider a post-and-wire fence that is disguised with plantings,” Evans continues. “Plantings can add to your enjoyment of the site, as well as be functional.”
Take Care When Choosing A Contractor
• Choose your fence contractor wisely. Read reviews, check the BBB, and call the insurance company to confirm that the contractor is currently insured.
• Be detailed. Ask about concrete, fasteners and types of wood.
• Underground utilities MUST be marked before turning the first stone. If the contractor is not insured, the homeowner is held responsible for any utility damage. A simple gas-line break can cost upwards of $7,000 to fix, not to mention the fire department and police response.
— Brian Landfried, Apex Fence Company
The Urban Perimeter
Perhaps you don’t have a front and backyard, or your “yard” is really just a small rooftop garden or living area. Yet privacy may still be a concern. “In an urban setting, buildings might occupy the view from your garden, so screen those views with a well-placed plant, tree or trellis,” advises Julie Evans, partner and garden designer with The Fockele Garden Company in Gainesville, a member of the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET).
When Walls Go Bad
“I’m not a fan of segmented-block retaining walls because they’re used as a cheap alternative to stone walls,” says Ryan Taylor, president of Ryan Taylor Architects LLC. He explains that this material is common on TV shows focusing on DIY home improvement, so many homeowners choose to save money by installing these barriers without the help of a professional. “They can be appropriate for a variety of uses, though they’re most successful when they’re disguised by landscaping,” he explains. “The two biggest challenges seem to be that they’re improperly built or left unfinished so they fall apart (as shown in this inset photo), and they’re used too much so their boring uniformity becomes a focal point.”